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The Story, Photos and Video of Kabunare's Story of Survival during WWII on Banaba (Ocean Island)

Published: 6:34PM Sunday May 23, 2010 Source: ONE News  Kabunare Koura - Source: ONE News

Kiribati's tale of horror and survival (Source: ONE News)


Kabunare Koura (Source: ONE News)Watch Video Kiribati's tale of horror and survival (1:59)

Two hundred men were killed by Japanese forces after being bayoneted and thrown off a cliff on Kiribati's remote Ocean Island.

But one man managed to escape the bloodbath.

The rare images buried in a time vault tell a story of horror and survival.

New Zealand army major Elliot Lloyd photographed Kabunare Koura when he was found after a terrifying ordeal. He had been part of a group of 200 men rounded up by the Japanese just days after the war ended.

Author Michael Field says that the Japanese decided Kiribati workers knew too much about the fortifications on the island, so they simply took them to the edge of the cliff.

"They tied the men's hands behind their backs with wire and thrust bayonets into them."

Kabunare survived the fall and was saved as the bodies of his friends protected him from a rain of bullets. He hid for three months in a cave, creeping out at night to catch fish and find coconuts, until the island was liberated.

Field's book, Swimming with the Sharks, is about to be released and includes Kabunare's story told to him by Kabunare himself 11-years-ago.

"These great heroic battles of Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Helilio were not fought on blank fields ... there were Islanders there. We shouldn't forget who these people were," he says.

The family want the photos archived.

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Wow!! I remembered reading about him in your publication - Te Rii ni Banaba, but I am so impressed that an account of his escape and pictorial evidences have been put together. Due credit to photographer - Major Elliot and author - Michael Field for recording this important and inspiring historical account. And many thanks to you for disseminating the information.
funny how our ancestors were treated by the japanese and the trend now is that the japanese are falling in love with the people that they have harmed before...........

Please let me drop some lines to give thanks to those who have been involved in recording  what actually happened to Kabunare Koura. I could not hold back my tears when I read what has been taken place in Banaba.

I was born in Banaba on 21 February 1948 when my father came back to Banaba working with the British Government. I  am the eldest in the family Now I have three daughters, I have 15 grandchldren. I believed that God blessed my father as my father had strong faith in Him. My father used to tell me all what actually happened to him which made my mind to hate the Japanese, but this is not right, because Japanese people are good but in war times they work with orders and if they disobey orders they will in turn be punished. Let the past be the past.

Iaareto Kabunare

Mauri Iaareto lovely to hear from you. I'm not sure if your father is still alive. I know my Japanese friend and Banaban and human rights campaigner interviewed him back in 1996 or 97 and I also have an Australian TV documentary interview done with him by Juniper Productions around the same time. Last I heard he was living with family on the outer islands but this was just a rumour. Not sure if you were there during the filming for these interviews. Your father was /is an incredible man and I also have photos of him here in our Banaban archives taken by the old Australian BPC workers who welcomed him when he came to visit Australia many years back.

I think Manabu would have sent your father a DVD copy of their interview.

Regards and please keep in touch.

Stacey King

Abara Banaba Australia

Mauri Stacey. You are very kind. I saw on DVD when you all travelled to see Banaba again after being left when the phosphate exhausted. I wish I was with those who went there, and I hear you discussing how rehabilitate Banaba as she has been devastated from mining phosphate. I saw a man with his friend went to the drier (phosphate) where he was sitting and started to cry. Together with the show I also cried. I was there when the last shipment of phosphate (MV Valletta) came to signify the end of the mining. The ship's horn gave a blow to say farewell to Banaba which is now became a land of pinnacles.It looked as Banaba is like a rich person robbed under his own verandah. It is sad to see this. I left Banaba when I was 10 years of age and I just came back to Banaba to work as Police officer 6 months before the mining closed down.                

Mauri taan wareware,

I wish to thank the contributor of this segment. Indeed, the past could not be comprehended well without an eye witness. I thought without Kabunare's heroism act would cover the most gruesome death history of innocent people.

To the descendants of our great hero, God bless your father.

I think there are great stories from Banaba during WW II to cherish for the remaining days of our lives. The other that I know of is Nabetari's story of survival as well, when he fled the Japs from Banaba with friends in canoes.

Such true and emotional stories should all go down Banaba memory lane.

Terry Atauera Thank you for what you told in the story, It is true that our father had been blessed by Heavenly Father and without him we could not come to this world, It is indeed a great story to tell. Also it becomes alive when somebody started telling the story of WWII in Banaba. I still have the fresh memory of him when I read   the story about him, In addition I would ask if anyone could let me know where I could locate the book written about him.

Mauri Iaareto


This is the last email address I had for Michael Field in NZ with Fairfax Press:

I'm sure he would love to hear from you as well. Make sure you let him know that Kabunare was your father.

Good Luck!

Regards Stacey


Stacey, I have tried the accound you told me and the mail could not go through.
I tried sometimes but could not manage. Is there any other way, How about his

Thank you

Mauri Iaareto

That was the only email I had for him. What about email Fairfax Press in NZ and tell them you are trying to contact him. They might have a forwarding address for him.

I will see if I can find anything else on the internet and let you know.




Mauri Iaareto


Just made contact with Michael Field in NZ and he asked for you to contact him on:

He's looking forward to hear from you.




Stacey, Thank you very much indeed. I will contact him as soon as possible.




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